Big stakes are being held at Nationwide Arena tonight.
Not for the outcome of the game, necessarily, but who could be playing in future games, perhaps.
Tonight is the second-to-last preseason game for the 2019-2020 Columbus Blue Jackets, and we are officially a week out from opening night. This contest will be informally dubbed a "dress rehearsal" game, where both teams (including the New Jersey Devils) will play their lineup that most closely resembles the one that will start the regular season.
The first three forward lines are wrapped up nicely (for now), and with Brandon Dubinsky's recent injury, the final two forward spots are a competition between Sonny Milano, Jakob Lilja and Emil Bemstrom.
The blue line is in a similar boat - the three pairings consist (in some order) of Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray, David Savard and Markus Nutivaara. This leaves one spot left, and it's been as close as you can imagine for who will grab the opening.
In the (true) running throughout training camp has been Scott Harrington, Adam Clendening, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov and Andrew Peeke.
Clendening has been sent down to the AHL, which gives us some clarity. More clarity was added on Thursday afternoon when the Blue Jackets announced their lineup for tonight's dress rehearsal game, which had Kukan and Gavrikov both drawing in.
Kukan's experience as a Blue Jacket mainly came from the 2018-2019 campaign, where he recorded five points in 25 regular-season games, and one goal in ten playoff games, and skating strongly in the process. Gavrikov made his club debut in the second-round series against the Boston Bruins in this past year's playoffs and held his own in the midst of an injury-riddled blue line.
The reason for two open spots on the blue line in this game is due to the team being cautious with playing Murray, who is still getting back into the flow of regular play from an injury that took him out of the second half of last season and the playoffs. This gives a huge opportunity to Kukan and Gavrikov tonight to prove their worth to earn the sixth spot.
Now, it should be noted that this one preseason game tonight may not be the final decider between Kukan and Gavrikov, after an entire offseason of evaluation. Harrington and Peeke are still breathing, so they might get their shot in Sunday night's game as well.
No matter who nabs the spot against the Toronto Maple Leafs for opening night, though, their status in that role could last a mere game. We could see these four or five serviceable defensemen bounce around on the bubble for a lot of the fall, as the Blue Jackets look to adjust to a new era of their franchise.
For those tuning in to the stream, keep an eye on Kukan and Gavrikov as they individually fight for a job on opening night. It should be an enjoyable side-show to the game itself.
Follow 1st Ohio Battery